I’ve been procrastinating. I’ve been doing everything but finish the post I had started about my second round of chemo. I had planned on finishing the story. Instead, I’ve done everything but write about it. In all honesty, I’ve forgotten a lot of what happened. Whether from the chemo drugs or selective memory, I don’t remember as much as I thought I did. I made notes during that time, and we have video and photos, but I haven’t wanted to look at them.
The main reason I’ve been procrastinating, though, is nothing other than pure dread of reliving the experience. Now that I’ve put a little distance between what happened and my return to “normal” living, I much prefer the way things have turned out. It’s hard to leave the bright lights of survivorship and go back to that dark, scary place.
And so I keep putting it off. I write about knitting. Or I don’t write at all. I have enjoyed getting my life back on track and feeling good again. I do yoga. I run. I go for a walk. Last weekend I ran my first 9 mile loop around the lake since last May, with walk breaks, and I’m starting to feel as good as I used to. Running is still very, very hard. It’s taken me much longer than I thought it would to get my conditioning and stamina back. I still have to walk a lot, and after every run I am bone tired. But I realize every step, no matter how fast, is an accomplishment. Thankfully, I have good friends who still want to run with me, despite the walk breaks.
I have been very emotional lately. All those salute to mothers commercials during the Olympics always made me cry. Any athlete’s story that was highlighted made me cry. Even seeing the winning athletes stand on the podium made me cry! I seem to feel things more deeply now that I know how tenuous life can be.
Reading other cancer patients’ blogs makes me feel so sad for them. I love reading them, but I feel frustrated that I can’t help. I saw a bald woman walking her dog at the lake the other day and I instantly teared up. I wanted to run over to her and tell her how beautiful and brave she was for walking in the open without a scarf. I didn’t, and I wish I had. I was never brave enough to walk around without a cap, even at the cancer center.
I dreaded going back to the hospital for blood work a few weeks ago for my three month check up. I thought that sitting in the waiting room amongst the people going through chemo was going to make me want to cry. It didn’t, and instead I looked around at all the amazing, strong, upbeat people who were waiting for chemo. They all had hope, and it made me proud to know I was once one of them. Instead of feeling sad, I felt powerful for having made it through. I got to see the chemo nurses. Seeing my oncologist and her nurses felt like going to see my family. And my CA-125 cancer antigen number was a 9, the lowest it’s ever been.
I celebrated a birthday this month. It was, of course, a very special birthday, one I might not have seen if we hadn’t caught the cancer as early as we did. A year ago Saturday was the last marathon I ran before I got sick. There are lots of milestones ahead in the coming months, and I plan on celebrating them all.
The kids are all gone again and the house is a lot more quiet. We’re starting a large vegetable garden in the backyard and I’ve been eating a lot healthier than I was before. I love being able to enjoy and savor the taste of good, simple food again. Losing my taste buds and not eating were by far the worst parts of chemo. That, and losing my hair, which has grown out to about an inch now–with a lot more gray, dammit. My body looks different after being sliced open and having tubes inserted for chemo ports, one of which still remains in my chest.
I’ve changed. There’s no way around it. The first few months after chemo were joyful. Everything was shiny and new. I had my life back. I had dodged a bullet. That was so close! Nothing could touch me now. I was like teflon; all the small aggravations and worries seemed inconsequential and insignificant.
Now that things have settled down again, and I physically feel almost as good as I did before I was diagnosed, I’ve had more time to think about all that I went through. I’m a little more somber. The shiny, happy feeling is a little more tarnished. The fog cleared and I understood for the first time how serious everything had truly been. I could have died. Chemo was hell. How did I get through all that? Every slight twinge of pain anywhere in my body now makes me instantly worried. What if it comes back? is always in the back of my mind.
But I survived. Hopefully the cancer will never come back. If it does, I know I’ll be able to deal with it, like so many others have done and continue to do every day that they’re given. I’m only one of many who have gone through this. Some days I’ll feel sad about what I went through, but most days I won’t. There’s no reason to. I’m alive, I’m healthy again, and life is very, very good.
And one day I will finish the story I started, all in good time.
In keeping with my latest goal of creating beauty, I’m finishing up a wrap I started knitting during the Christmas season. The wool was ridiculously expensive, but I couldn’t resist the colors.
Sometimes spending a lot of money on something beautiful is worth it.
I originally bought the yarn for two pillows I wanted to knit for the sofa, but I decided those colors were meant to be worn and draped around someone’s shoulders.
I’m not sure if I’ll keep the wrap for myself, sell it, or give it away. It doesn’t really matter what I decide to do with it. It’s all about creating beauty.
Have you noticed, like me, that there isn’t enough beauty in our man-made world? When I look around the city where I live, I see a lot of generic sameness. I acknowledge that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but it seems too often today that if something doesn’t have a strictly utilitarian purpose it has no value.
I disagree wholeheartedly.
I love poetry. When I’m in the right mood, I love to curl up with my favorite poems and swim in the words. Reading poetry is such a visceral, emotional experience. Certain opera arias have the same effect and can bring me to tears.
The last time I took the train I noticed that poems had been posted on the walls. I loved it, and read the poem on the wall above me over and over.
What a great way to get to work, reading a poem instead of an advertisement. I loved that someone had the idea to post the poems, something that seems so frivolous, yet beautiful.
Children understand the need to create something beautiful. There were always certain kids in my classes who couldn’t stop themselves from constantly doodling, sketching, writing, folding, and making. It wasn’t boredom. Boredom is spitballs, talking, falling asleep, and knocking your book on the floor on purpose.
This was making and doing just because you can’t help yourself.
I understand those kids because I used to be just like them, only I usually saved it for the privacy of my bedroom where no one could see me. I generally like to keep my creative projects to myself, maybe because showing them to the world is showing a little too much of yourself.
Nothing exposes you more than poetry. I used to write a lot more, but rarely showed my work to anyone. Even if it’s unclear who or what the poem is about, you can’t hide the emotion, and showing others your deepest feelings in a poem is like standing naked in a snowstorm.
Knitting something is a little less gut wrenching and transparent. For some reason, I feel almost guilty when I take time to knit during the day. I feel the same way about reading a book. Maybe it comes from all those years of teaching and feeling like I had to stay “busy” every second of the day, but knitting doesn’t feel like real work.
And perhaps that’s the whole point of creating beauty, that it shouldn’t feel like work, that there shouldn’t be any point to it, other than bringing something beautiful to life.
Knitting in Texas is hard. It’s always hot, usually humid, and not exactly conducive to sitting on the couch with a pound of wool in your lap. Okay, of course I’m exaggerating, but only slightly, and not about how hard it is to knit in Texas.
It really is hot here. Running in the summer is bad enough, but knitting is almost impossible. It’s the farthest thing from my mind, no matter how much cold air the AC manages to blast out. Today is literally the first day I’ve noticed the trees changing colors–and it’s the middle of November. Which means the temperatures are slowly going down, after a veeeeeerrrrrryyyyy looooonnnnnngggg summer. Finally, I can enjoy knitting. However, by mid to late February the temperatures will already start to climb, and knitting will begin to lose its grip on my psyche.
It’s hard to knit something when it’s 105 degrees outside.
Where I live there are exactly two knitting stores. I’m not counting the crafts stores that sell knitting supplies and acrylic yarn. I’m talking about real knitting shops, filled with high quality yarn and real people who actually know how to knit. Since we only have these two knitting stores, shopping there isn’t cheap.
Which means I troll the internet for affordable yarn. I have this thing about acrylic yarn: I hate it. I hate the feel of it, I hate the look of it, I hate everything about it. I refuse to knit with it. Why bother spending hundreds of hours knitting something beautiful with an inferior material? It pains me to see someone knitting with acrylic yarn.
Harsh, I know, and the alternative usually means dishing out a lot of money. But to me, it’s like buying organic versus nonorganic at the grocery store. I prefer to knit with natural materials, even if I really can’t afford to. Nothing beats a beautifully knitted garment made of soft, natural wool.
Another reason knitting in Texas is hard is because there are so few of us who do it. I grew up in Texas but learned to knit in Switzerland. Go figure. No one in my family knits, though both of my grandmothers made quilts–something I wish they were still around to teach me. Knitting in public garners a lot of attention, which isn’t something I enjoy. Most people just stare, wondering what the heck I’m doing, and where exactly do I plan on wearing that warm looking thing that’s cascading off my sweaty needles?
If I want to talk about knitting, or have a question about something I’m working on, I have to go to the internet or one of my many knitting reference books. When I learned to knit in Switzerland and had a question, every woman I knew could help me. Everyone knit like crazy there, and they rarely used patterns. Knitting sweaters for their families was something women were proud of, and also a necessity since sweaters were worn all year round. I loved the way knitting was valued and passed on from one generation of women to another.
And lest you think I’m being sexist, there were a few men who said their mothers taught them to knit when they were young, but I never once saw a man knitting–at least not in public.
Despite the difficulties, I still love knitting, even in hot old Texas. It’s on my agenda every single day of the year, yet I seldom seem to make time for it. That’s going to have to change. Other than yoga, knitting is always the most relaxing part of my day. I might not be the most prolific knitter, or the fastest, but when I get around to it, I enjoy it the most of anything else I do.
Well, other than eating dark chocolate, that is . . .
I am a knitter.
There, I’ve admitted it. I’ve been knitting for the past 31 years and almost no one knows that about me. I also sing and hum constantly, watch a soap opera, and fall asleep in the middle of movies. Before it became cool again, I took a lot of grief about my love of knitting. My ex was visibly and vociferously embarrassed if I ever dared to pull out my knitting needles in a public place. He told me it looked so “old” (I was 35 at the time). Sheesh.
I learned to knit when I lived in Switzerland. I was newly arrived from Texas and was soon to be married. Switzerland was a lot colder than Texas. Sweaters looked like a good idea. Everywhere I looked young girls were knitting: at the movies, in coffee shops, and standing on the bus on their way to school. I couldn’t believe anyone could knit standing up, and everyone knitted at lightning speed, talking and laughing, and rarely looked at their fingers. I was in awe. I watched. I wanted to learn.
A very patient Swiss schoolteacher friend named Gabi Schoenenberger got me started. Since I didn’t speak German or French, didn’t understand anything on TV, and had only my father-in-law’s James Bond books to read in English, I had lots of time to practice. I was pretty good at knitting and made scarves, sweaters, and baby clothes for my daughter and son. I loved the meditative nature of knitting, and it gave me something to do when I got bored of sitting around not understanding what was being talked about around me.
I came back to Texas seven years later and brought my knitting needles and wool with me. I still tried to keep up my knitting, but eventually realized it rarely got cold enough to wear much of what I made. Even worse, who wants to sit through a Texas summer with wool in their lap? Knitting became a winter-only activity, and it was something I loved to do in the evenings while I watched TV.
That is, until I discovered the Tour de France two summers ago.
I’m not a cyclist, but many of my friends are. I was a girly girl tomboy when I was a kid, and was always outside on my roller skates, skateboard, or bike. I could patch the tires and put the chain back on my banana seat Huffy and ten-speed bike without any help from my dad. I rode my bike much farther than my mom ever knew, sometimes in places a little girl should never bike alone, and even used to plan out long trips across town from places I had seen out the side window of the car on our Sunday drives.
I loved biking in Switzerland, but those hills were tough work.
In Dallas, home of the world’s worst drivers, I can barely run without getting hit by a car, so I don’t bike very often. The last time I did I tried to run my dog on leash next to me and we wiped out when she darted after a squirrel. It wasn’t fun.
But in July, le Tour de France . . . perfect! I can sit on the couch in the air conditioned heaven of my home and knit for hours as the riders speed through a country I visited many times. I can look at the castles and chateaux and reminisce about the beauty of the French countryside and the trips we took to the south of France. I can go back in my mind to the evenings we drove across the border just for a good meal (white asparagus and morels) and skiing in the Jura mountains. I never have to worry about peloton crashes, broken collarbones, or getting swept off the road by a careening car. All I have to worry about is not dropping a stitch.
I’m relieved that knitting has achieved a new renaissance in the U.S. and that I no longer have to hide my dirty little secret. I never understood what was so “grandmotherly” about it in the first place (as if anything about being a grandmother is a bad thing). I was so excited when my daughter asked me to teach her how to knit, and humbled by the knowledge that I was passing on an art form that countless women (and men) have perpetuated for hundreds–if not thousands–of years. I also loved that she got knitting advice last Christmas when she went back to Switzerland to visit her dad, just like I did all those years ago.
My knitting has come full circle.
So, pedal away Contodor, Cadel, and Cavendish as you bike your way towards Paris. I’ll sit here and knit one, purl two through France and all those memories. At the end of the day one of you will have a new yellow jersey. Me, I’ll be a few more rows closer to the cast-off, and the end of another summer knitting project. Vive le Tour de France!
My failed interview at the charter school may have turned out to be the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time. Feeling old has taken on a new healthy life of its own. It’s certainly caused me to think a lot about aging and why we’re all so afraid of something that’s going to happen whether we like it or not. I’m even thinking of letting my highlights grow out and going naturally gray. Why not? I’m old anyway, so what’s the point of trying to look like something I’m not? Must I be forced to join the legions of former brunettes who drink the blonde kool aid merely because I’m officially “middle aged?”
I read an interesting article in Time magazine about “amortality.” Per Catherine Mayer, the author of the story, “The defining characteristic of amortality is to live in the same way, at the same pitch, doing and consuming much the same things, from late teens right up until death.” Maybe this is merely a reaction to the interview, but I’ve found myself going out of my way lately to question whether something makes me old or not. For instance, last weekend I tripped on a run and my back has been hurting ever since. Is this what it means to be old? I look in the mirror and see new lines on my face and wonder why I never noticed them before. A student in class will say something I can’t make out and I wonder if my hearing is starting to go. Am I wearing my hair too long for my age, should I cut it? When does a woman cross the hair threshold and have to keep it short, and who makes up these rules?
I don’t think I’m necessarily interested in being amortal. I don’t want to live my life the same way I did when I was in my late teens, or even my twenties or thirties. I like slowing down and not having to explain everything I do. Things that once seemed so important simply don’t anymore, and I’m able to laugh at myself and some of my quirks and particularities. I’m glad my kids are grown and I can focus more on myself again. I don’t really care as much what other people think about me, and I’m starting to care less about the way my looks are changing (I’m still working on this). I’m getting used to feeling invisible around certain younger crowds, and I think I cringe less when someone calls me “ma’am.” I certainly feel more confident than I did when I was younger, and I’m in better shape, too. I’m not afraid of spending time alone.
I think I’m more interested in living as if aging doesn’t matter. I’ll just keep doing the things I want to until I either don’t want to anymore or my body can’t handle it. I’ll make my own rules as I go along. I’ll keep running marathons, knitting, listening to Pearl Jam, country, and opera, hiking, wearing tight jeans, and drinking good beer. It’s a good place to start.